Evam’s ‘Stand-up Tamasha’ was one wild ride with a group of loquacious young Indian men, Karthik Kumar, S Aravind, Naveen Richard and Aswin Rao. ‘Stand-up Tamasha’ is the stand-up comedy branch of Evam Entd, an arts-based entrepreneurship based in India. As stand-up comedians, all four Evam performers were simply superb, driving their audience to tears; they probably milked as much humour out of Indian stereotypes and clichés as humanly possible in two hours. From software engineering to the karma sutra, a plethora of topics were covered in the course of four monologues, each lasting approximately half an hour. The performers had a truly impressive array of jokes, and skillfully reeled off one right after the other.
Initially, I was skeptical as to whether I would be entertained for two entire hours straight, but I had absolutely nothing to worry about. In fact, what you should worry about is a sore throat and, if you go with your friends, perhaps unglamorous photos of you laughing like a maniac.
In point of fact, for Evam’s ‘Stand-Up Tamasha’, the playful jibes at Indian stereotypes started before the actual performance, with Evam’s advertising poster cheekily counselling potential customers: “Don’t be cheap, there is no bargaining.”, and then going on to accommodate presumably ‘cheap’ customers anyway with a “Psst…there is an ‘early bird’ discount, you can save five dollars! Book now!” right below.
On their part, I must say, the audience was anything but cheap. Patent leather shoes and branded goods galore, Evam drew a particularly high-profile, predominantly Indian crowd that had a very wide range of age groups, ranging from teenagers to seniors. Although there were only a few non-Indians in the audience, including myself, I would like to point out that one does not need to be Indian or to be too familiar with Indian culture to enjoy oneself in this performance. Laughter is guaranteed, no matter your skin colour. There are a couple of jokes that are made in Hindi, and the jokes might make a greater impact if you could relate to the humour with some personal experiences, but nevertheless, all you really need is an open mind and a good sense of humour to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
In stand-up comedy, it’s not so much the jokes themselves that are integral to comedy but rather the way they are told, and stand-up comedy is heavily based on personality types, with the comedian in question taking on a persona that has to come across as natural while at the same time being exaggerated and larger than life in order to deliver humor. ‘Stand-up Tamasha’ followed this trope with each performer taking on a unique comedic persona and most of the jokes stemmed from the purported life experiences and the quirky attitudes of the respective comic personalities.
Mr. Aswin Rao opened ‘Stand-up Tamasha’ with a very impassioned monologue, which I found particularly impressive in its use of rhythm, pace and repetition for comic timing. He covered many topics such as Indian names, Indian manners, the Indian knack for software engineering and Indian aversion to public displays of affection. Much of his jokes had a mocking humour, where he as a persona pointed out the ironies and quirks in his culture. My favourite was his rendition of a Brahmin’s life:
“First they say, get-a-job-get-a-job-get-a-job! So you get a job. And then? Kids! Have-some-kids-have-some-kids-have-some-kids! Okay, so you have kids. Then get-a-house-get-a-house-get-a-house! You buy a house. Then get-a-green-card-get-a-green card-get-a-green-card! And after all that, then? Come-back-to-India-come-back-to-India- come-back-to-India!”
While it may not be as funny written down, in actual performance, the effect is hilarious and Aswin Rao, quite simply, brought the house down.
The second performer, Karthik Kumar, complemented the previous performance very well – the first kicked off the show with more commonly bandied about Indian stereotypes and the second one delved into what is, comparatively, the very specific and somewhat unchartered territory of sexual stereotypes. On the whole, Mr. Kumar’s persona on stage was bold, brassy and dauntless – his cheeky ‘R21’ humour honestly knew no bounds.
I would love to give some examples of his jokes here but I shall have to censor myself, for when I say ‘R21’ humour I’m really not kidding! But to whet your curiosity, topics covered included the karma sutra, Indian erotica and the Indian sex drive. His was definitely a performance not to be missed.
The third performer, Naveen Richard, appeared in contrast to Karthik Kumar as a shy, slightly nerdy but altogether charming young man. The topics covered in his monologue were relatively more urban, although in the beginning he opened with a recount of his life in a small town where twenty-two year olds purportedly hang out at ice-cream parlours all day instead of at pubs. He did a re-enactment of that scene, and various other impressions during the course of his monologue that gave it a more theatrical quality which made the monologue more engaging by feeding visual cues to the audience and thus calling upon their imagination. Other topics Naveen touched on were racial profiling, old Indian aunties and their various eccentricities, cooking shows, math skills, clubbing and relationships.
Once or twice in his soliloquy, he appeared to lose track of his material and hit a temporary blank, but he handled it rather well with considerable reflexivity, remarking casually, “Damn, I’m blacking out here” and then breezing past the awkward pause with relative ease. My favourite moment in his soliloquy was when he demonstrated why the popular pick-up line, “Ha-ave you met Ted?” from the American sit-com ‘How I Met Your Mother’ would not work in an Indian context. Admittedly, “Ha-ave you met Jijo?” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
The final performer, S Aravind, was introduced as “25, horny and single” and indeed lived up to this introduction by kicking off his monologue talking about Indians who go to Bangkok in search of sexual entertainment, before moving on to Little India which he describes, tongue-in-cheek, to be a veritable Indian embassy whose borders stop abruptly at Farrer Park. After bemoaning the amount of fines in Singapore, he moved on to describe how Singaporean-Indians and ‘Indian-Indians’ behave differently in Mustafa, then declared his love for Komala’s (an Indian vegetarian restaurant chain with outlets in Singapore) and his purportedly ‘Indian’ distaste for self-service, and thereafter the pains of being twenty-five and single. Although the topics were quite disparate, the monologue had excellent flow, with a large number of jokes delivered in quick succession. This created a very lively pace that sustained the audience’s interest. Here is a particular sequence the audience loved:
“People in India ask, why would you spend 7000 rupees on an iPhone? I say, it’s a feeling – you won’t get it.Why do people in South India love Rajinikanth so much? It’s a feeling – you won’t get it. Dude, how is your sex life? It’s a feeling – you won’t get it.”
Altogether, the comedians were very professional in terms of the quality and the range of their jokes, their stage presence, their confidence, and their deliveries which were all extremely natural, exuberant and passionate. There was never a dull moment, especially because of their efforts to incorporate the audience wherever possible which made the performance all the more engaging, especially since the rapport between performer and audience is central to successful stand-up comedy. They asked for peoples’ names, their places of origin and even their relationship status, quipping “Seriously, it’s dark, only I can see” when no single woman in the audience (including me) wanted to attest to her singlehood. Sorry, S Aravind.
Also extremely commendable was their meticulous knowledge of Singaporean tropes and idiosyncrasies. I am not sure when they reached Singapore, but Evam’s performers are, as aforementioned, based in Chennai. From Singapore’s many laws and policies, to the public displays of affection in our public transport, and the various subtleties between being Singaporean-Indian and ‘Indian-Indian’, and to even the Burger King in our airport, Evam’s performers demonstrated a very nuanced understanding of the singularities of being both Singaporean and Indian in Singapore which definitely contributed to a lot of laughs because their jokes were that much more wittier and relatable to their audience.
To sum up, I enjoyed myself tremendously at Evam’s ‘Stand-up Tamasha’, and I would definitely go again, but this time I’d drag more non-Indian friends to come along. Do follow the hyperlink at the start of this review and visit Evam’s official website for more information regarding future shows in Singapore. An Evam ‘Stand-up Tamasha’ is well worth the ticket and not to be missed!